If the Detroit Red Wings aren't in the Eastern Conference next season, there is going to be one angry owner.
Ever since the Atlanta Thrashers became the Winnipeg Jets and moved to Manitoba, realignment became an inevitability. And since the beginning of time (OK, the creation of the conferences), Detroit has wanted to be in the East. The long plane rides and late-night games that go past midnight back home aren't necessarily ideal.
Mike Ilitch, the Red Wings owner, has been incredibly vocal about his team's desire to move. Now he says he downright expects it because Gary Bettman promised him as much. In a Q&A with Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News, Ilitch explained the conversation.
Q. OK, once and for all, are you gonna get the Wings out of the Western Conference or not?
A. The commissioner (Gary Bettman) promised me I was next. We even had a meeting over lunch this past season, and he had all his people here, and he goes, 'Yeah, I promised Mike he'd be the next one to go in the Eastern Conference.' So I expect to be in next year. Jimmy D (Devellano) is on the phone every other week reminding them.
(By the way, Ilitch also said they are working on a new arena to replace the Joe, saying "we're going to have a new arena.")
My guess is that might have been a case of Ilitch hearing what he wanted to hear. It's certainly possible that Bettman made such a promise to him, but I'm not ready to go all-in on that being correct. What's more, no matter if Bettman promises it, it still has to be approved by a 2/3 majority of the board of governors. Now whatever Bettman and crew say usually goes, but it's still not a guarantee.
Remember, there will be a lot of opposition to the Red Wings from the teams in the West. No team in the conference draws as well as Detroit on the road. When you start talking money, people get a little more serious, and defensive.
The more I think about Detroit joining the East, the more I begin to believe they might just tear up the current format of six divisions. There's no real way Detroit slides seamlessly into the East. Do they just replace Atlanta in the Southeast? Doesn't seem right. Maybe you move Pittsburgh to the Southeast, Detroit to the Atlantic? I can't imagine Pittsburgh would like being broken up with the Flyers, Rangers, Devils and Islanders one bit.
Instead, if Ilitch is under the right belief and the Wings are flying East, I think you'd see a scenario where they bring a team, likely the Columbus Blue Jackets, with them. You then have the destruction of six division, instead having four. The only thing is that leaves you with two divisions of eight and two with seven, but with a return to the balanced schedule, it helps things.
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